Bill Cullen

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Bill Cullen
Bill Cullen 1954.JPG
Cullen in 1954.
Born William Lawrence Francis Cullen
(1920-02-18)February 18, 1920
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died July 7, 1990(1990-07-07) (aged 70)
Bel Air, California
Cause of death
Lung cancer
Occupation Television personality
Radio personality
Game show host
Years active 1952–1988

William Lawrence Francis "Bill" Cullen (February 18, 1920 – July 7, 1990) was an American radio and television personality whose career lasted over thirty years. He was best known for television game shows, having hosted multiple series (including Place the Face, the original The Price Is Right, the syndicated The $25,000 Pyramid, and Blockbusters) and served as a panelist on I've Got a Secret and To Tell the Truth.

Early life[edit]

Cullen was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the only child of William and Lillian Cullen. He survived a childhood bout with polio that left him with significant physical limitations for the rest of his life (see medical history). He also wore very thick spectacles, which became a trademark.

Cullen's career began in Pittsburgh, where he worked at WWSW radio. He assisted sportscaster Joe Tucker, who called Pittsburgh Steelers games. He was well known for his puckish sense of humor and for playing pranks on his fellow announcers while they were on the air. Cullen decided to try his luck in New York and one of his first jobs was writing for the Easy Aces radio show.[1]

Game show career[edit]

After moving to New York City he hosted several radio programs, including game shows, in the late 1940s and 1950s. His first TV game show was Winner Take All, a Mark GoodsonBill Todman production that aired on CBS in 1952. From 1954 to 1955, he hosted NBC's Place the Face, a program in which celebrities identify persons from their past. He hosted the daytime and prime-time versions of The Price Is Right, another Goodson-Todman production, from 1956 to 1965. He was also a panelist on I've Got a Secret from 1952 until 1967 and then on To Tell the Truth from 1969 until 1978, where he would also guest host on occasion. After relocating to southern California, Cullen sub-hosted Password Plus for four weeks in April 1980 while original host Allen Ludden was being treated for stomach cancer.

While Cullen was in the running to host the 1972 revival of The Price Is Right for CBS, the physical demands of the new format were considered too strenuous for him. The job was instead split between Bob Barker (daytime) and Dennis James (nighttime); Barker took over both versions in 1977, and hosted The Price Is Right until his retirement in 2007. Occasional references to Cullen have been made by current The Price Is Right host Drew Carey.

In all, Cullen hosted 23 different game shows over the years, more than anyone else in television history. These shows included Eye Guess in the 1960s; Three on a Match and the nighttime version of The $25,000 Pyramid in the 1970s; and Chain Reaction, Blockbusters, Child's Play, Hot Potato, and The Joker's Wild (after Jack Barry's death) in the 1980s.

He appeared as a celebrity guest on many other game shows throughout his career, including I've Got a Secret, Password, Password Plus, To Tell the Truth, Match Game, and all pre-$100,000 versions of Pyramid. Cullen also hosted a number of pilots for his close friend, quiz producer Bob Stewart, who created The Price Is Right, Truth, and Password for Goodson-Todman and Pyramid for his own company. He thus became the only person to host each of these formats on a full- or part-time basis. He also appeared as a panelist on several game shows hosted by his favorite understudy, Bob Eubanks, including Trivia Trap, Rhyme and Reason, and All Star Secrets; and made guest appearances with Eubanks on Family Feud. He was also a close friend of Canadian-American host Jim Perry.

In 1982 Cullen made a surprise appearance on The Price Is Right to promote his new game show, Child's Play. This was the only time Cullen ever appeared on the revival of The Price Is Right and no mention was made of Cullen's original run as host.[citation needed]

Achievements[edit]

Cullen served in the Civil Air Patrol as an instructor and patrol pilot in his native Pennsylvania during World War II (having failed to qualify for combat duty due to his physical disabilities), and was interested in mechanics. He did color commentary on college football games early in his career, and also broadcast track and field on NBC. On I've Got A Secret, producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman and host Garry Moore quickly learned to never start the questioning with Cullen if the guest's secret was anything sports-related or mechanical, because chances were good that he would guess it immediately.

He was a host of NBC Radio's long-running "Monitor" from 1970-73.

During his television career Cullen was nominated three times for Emmy Awards; his only win was for hosting Three On A Match (1973); he was later nominated for his work on Blockbusters (1982) and Hot Potato (1985).[2]

Honors[edit]

The Game Show Congress, a nonprofit association that seeks to promote the game show industry, annually presents the Bill Cullen Career Achievement Award to performers who have had distinguished careers in the genre. The first award in 2004 was given posthumously to Cullen himself; his widow Ann accepted it on his behalf.

Personal life[edit]

Cullen was married three times and had no children. His first marriage was a brief one while still living in Pittsburgh. His second marriage was to singer Carol Ames from 1949 to 1955. On December 24, 1955, Cullen married former dancer and model Ann Roemheld Macomber, daughter of composer Heinz Roemheld; this marriage would last until his death. Ann often appeared with Cullen on Tattletales in the 1970s and 1980s.

Medical history[edit]

Cullen contracted poliomyelitis in the early 1930s. The long-term sequelae of that illness, combined with injuries sustained in a serious motor vehicle accident in 1937 requiring a 9-month hospitalization,[3] left him with significant and lifelong ambulatory limitations.

His physical disabilities were (and largely remain) unknown to the general public due to the creative set design of his shows. The games' structures, props, and any physical movements by contestants were deliberately arranged so that Cullen could, for the most part, remain stationary. Rather than the grand entrance common for game show hosts, Cullen would begin each show either already seated or concealed on set behind a sign or podium so he would have to take only a few steps. Cullen always sat in a chair while hosting, even on shows where the other participants stood. Similar accommodations were made when he served as a celebrity guest on other game shows. This is most noticeable in the 1970s versions of Pyramid, when Dick Clark hosted the daytime $10,000/$20,000 Pyramid and Cullen the syndicated $25,000 Pyramid. Both versions used the same set, but while Clark would enter stage left from behind the Winners' Circle on set and walk over to the podium where he would stand, Cullen entered from behind the main game's category board and take several steps to the podium where he would sit on a chair.

Because of these arrangements, many of Cullen's show business colleagues were unaware of his disability, which occasionally led to awkward situations. In the August 2010 issue of GQ Magazine under the heading "Epic Tales of Embarrassment", comedian/writer/producer Mel Brooks related the following story to writer Steve Heisler:

The week of October 17–21 in 1966—that would make me about 40—was a special celebrity week on Eye Guess. Bill Cullen was the host. The game was very similar to Concentration. I was teamed up with Julia Meade. Remember her? Actress, very pretty young lady, blonde... Okay, never mind. I don't think I won, but I did get the take-home game. Anyway, the show is over, and I start walking toward the podium to say good night to Bill, to thank him for having me on. He starts coming toward me cross-stage, and I don't know what he's doing. His feet are flopping. His hands are flying everywhere. He's doing this kind of wacky walk-of-the-unfortunates that Jerry Lewis used to do. So I figured, what the hell, I'll join him. I start doing, I dunno, this multiple-sclerosis walk, flapping my arms and doing the Milton Berle cross legs—my own Jerry Lewis impression... And Julia is whispering, "No! He's crippled, Mel!" I don't even hear her. Finally we meet in the middle, we hug, and he says to me, "You know, you're the only comic who's ever had the nerve to make fun of my crippled walk. Everyone's so careful, it makes me feel even worse." And I realize, Oh, my God, this guy is really crippled! It was my worst moment—and if you weren't me, probably the funniest thing that ever happened.[4]

In the fall of 1969, shortly after Eye Guess ended, Cullen fell seriously ill. Diagnosed with pancreatitis and requiring major surgery, Cullen took time off from work to recuperate. When he returned to television, particularly his position on the panel for To Tell The Truth, his physical appearance had drastically changed; along with letting his hair grow out, his pancreatitis had caused him to lose over thirty pounds leaving his face gaunt and wrinkled.[5]

Death[edit]

Cullen, a smoker for most of his life, died on July 7, 1990, of lung cancer in Los Angeles.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mercer, Charles (20 November 1957). "13 Weekly TV-Radio Shows Keep Bill Cullen Hopping". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  2. ^ "Primetime Emmy Awards, Outstanding Achievement by Individuals in Daytime Programming (1973)". imdb.com. 1974-05-20. Retrieved 2014-01-14. 
  3. ^ Bill Cullen Imdb Database Retrieved 2010-09-13.
  4. ^ Epic Tales of Embarrassment. GQ Magazine, August 2010, page 90.
  5. ^ Nedeff, Adam (2013). Quizmaster: The Life And Times And Fun And Games Of Bill Cullen. BearManor Media. pp. 308–309. ISBN 978-1-59393-730-0. 

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Allen Ludden
Sub Host, Password Plus
April 14 – May 9, 1980
Succeeded by
Allen Ludden
Preceded by
none
The Price Is Right Host
November 26, 1956 – September 3, 1965
Succeeded by
Bob Barker (daytime) in 1972, Dennis James (nighttime) in 1972
Preceded by
none
The $25,000 Pyramid Host (nighttime)
September 9, 1974 – September 9, 1979
Succeeded by
Dick Clark in 1985
Preceded by
none
Chain Reaction Host
January 14, 1980 – June 20, 1980
Succeeded by
Blake Emmons in 1986
Preceded by
none
Blockbusters Host
October 24, 1980 – April 23, 1982
Succeeded by
Bill Rafferty in 1987
Preceded by
Jack Barry
The Joker's Wild Host
1984–1986
Succeeded by
Pat Finn in 1990